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‘The best season-opening conditions in 20 years’ – ski resorts welcome fresh snow and bluebird skies

Val Thorens
Val Thorens

The ski season in Europe has begun as resorts celebrate bumper snowfall and welcome thousands of visitors to the slopes.

As chairlifts whirled into action, locals and passionate skiers were among those to sample the first snow of the season in the Alps’s highest resorts. Holidaymakers will begin to arrive in the mountains in the coming weeks, as Christmas approaches and more resorts and pistes open.

Our experts were among those in the queue to kickstart winter. Here they share their live reports from the slopes and what skiers and snowboarders can anticipate as winter gets underway.

The crowds have already started descending on Val Thorens
The crowds have already started descending on Val Thorens - Thibaut Loubere

France

The word in vibrant Val Thorens is that the “best ski resort in the world” has been blessed with “the best season-opening conditions in 20 years”.

I felt a huge air of anticipation upon arrival in the highest resort in Europe – which has been crowned the best on the planet for an eighth time – for La Grande Première, the weekend to officially kick off the winter season.

Heavy snowfall ensured the celebrations began in earnest as the first lift of the 2023/24 season took giddy skiers and snowboarders up the mountain. I was among 10,385 who had what felt like the golden lift ticket for the first official day of skiing on Saturday, with some abandoning their vehicles at the side of the road due to car parks being full.

My guide for the opening morning, Stephane, declared that it is at least two decades since he has experienced season-opening conditions such as this – a stark contrast to last year, when La Grande Première was put back due to a lack of snow.

60 per cent of lifts were open and a DJ blasted music under clear blue skies – the atmosphere was one of a party on Sunday, with a test village giving thrill-seekers the chance to try out new skis and snowboards.

Popular resort Val Thorens is seeing the best season-opening conditions in 20 years
Popular resort Val Thorens is seeing the best season-opening conditions in 20 years - Thibaut Loubere

Vincent Lalanne, director of the Val Thorens tourist office, said: “The conditions we have mean our season is guaranteed. We even had to call the regional government to clear roads to get up here, as they didn’t know we had so much snow.”

Snow report

There was 1 metre of the white stuff at the top of the mountain on Sunday after up to 10cm of snow fell on Saturday, providing fresh powder under my skis. Further heavy snowfall is forecast for Monday night and later in the week.

What to watch out for in the resort this winter

Head up to a new panoramic walkway to a viewing point to take in spectacular 360-degree views of Cime Caron and neighbouring summits.

Book it

Hotel Marielle (0033 458 24 00 80) has double rooms from £245 including breakfast. easyJet offers flights to Geneva from £115 return.

Pete Thompson

Austria

Anything less than a whiteout would have been a severe disappointment. After two aborted landings in Innsbruck, a diversion to Munich and many hours in a hastily arranged minibus, our journey to Ischgl for the season opening was nothing if not eventful. It’s fair to say the Tirol region had some heavy weather this weekend – but the locals were relieved to get it.

Ischgl traditionally opens on the last weekend of November. In 2022, it was touch and go, with snow only coming strong in the last three days. This year – and in common with much of the Swiss and French Alps – it has been bucketing down for most of the last month. The tourist board estimated 11,000 skiers were in the resort for the opening weekend, and while the slopes were busy, it felt more like a happy buzz than a bun fight for the first lift.

With wind speeds in excess of 25mph, the top stations remained closed – we got as high as the Palinkopf at 2,864m and it was easy to see why: the snow was good but it was -18°C and we were practically blown back up the mountain at one point. Rarely have I been as grateful for a heated chairlift seat. We found fresh both powder and groomed corduroy without much difficulty, though anywhere in the shade was cruddy and a little icy.

100 per cent of the slopes in Ischgl will be open from December 15
100 per cent of the slopes in Ischgl will be open from December 15 - Shutterstock

The tourist board promises 100 per cent of the slopes will be open from December 15; the snow is here already and they are maintaining the pistes until then.

Snow report

Rain showers in mid-November washed away some of the early-season snow, but conditions have improved since. On November 25, there was 15cm fresh powder on top of a 1.5 metre base and an overnight storm added another 30-40cm. More snow is forecast this week and sunshine is expected for the week beginning December 3.

What to watch out for in the resort this winter

Recharge weary limbs in the Silvretta Spa – a £65 million wellness centre with indoor and outdoor swimming and an adult-only bath and sauna complex. Day passes cost £63 and are a calming alternative to otherwise raucous nightlife.

Writer Matt Hampton took to the slopes in Ischgl
Writer Matt Hampton took to the slopes in Ischgl

Book it

The four-star Zalwonder (0043 5444 5191) has double rooms from £173 including breakfast. easyJet operators flights to Innsbruck from £44 return.

Matt Hampton

Switzerland

“It’s the best snow we’ve seen in November in years.” “It’s epic, sick.” “It’s now winter so the snow should stick…” This weekend’s excited babble in the gondola from Les Ruinettes summed up nicely my debut skiing experience this season. Verbier doesn’t officially open for another fortnight, but the resort’s pre-opening buzzed with ski fever.

“I‘m super-psyched to get going with a good, healthy snow base,” Verbier mountain guide Cherries von Maur told me. “Everyone is energised as it has snowed so early!” Certainly, the only accommodation to be found all weekend was down the mountain at Mont-Fort Swiss Lodge in Le Châble where 17 brilliant-value rooms inside the valley cable-car station mean you essentially roll out of bed onto the lift.

Post-swooshing Saturday, Verbier après ski icon Pub Mont Fort was chock-full and a massive heated dome up the mountain pulsated with 2,500 electronic-music fans at the closing night of the Polaris Festival.

For the 15,000 skiers in Verbier for the pre-opening, Sunday was a dazzling bluebird day, with knee-deep powder bordering groomed slopes around Lac des Vaux and Attelas–Ruinettes (the two sectors open). In the afternoon, the mood at the sun-drenched Ice Cube lounge bar, with paragliders floating across pink Massif des Combins vistas, was snow heaven on earth.

Snow report

Conditions are unmatched for November. It snowed all day and much of the night Saturday, meaning 37cm snow depth on summits and 8cm in Verbier village. Heavy snow – another 35cm – and continuing minus temperatures are forecast this week.

Writer Nicola Williams in Verbier
Writer Nicola Williams in Verbier

What to watch out for in the resort this winter

Arriving in Verbier by train has never been so à la mode (the Verbier Express links Geneva airport with Le Châble in just over two hours) and the onward cable car up to Verbier is running longer hours (5.15am to 11.50pm) to encourage more skiers to arrive by public transport.

Book it

Hôtel de Verbier (00 41 27 564 40 00) has double rooms from £251 including breakfast. SWISS runs flights to Geneva from £91 return.

Nicola Williams

And the rest

Our snow forecaster Patrick Thorne shares the latest conditions from the rest of Europe.

Italy

Italian ski areas enjoyed big snowfalls in the first half of November, with Livigno opening early after over 1 metre fell there. The weather warmed up for a while, but it’s been colder and snowier lately and more areas now have some terrain open. They include Cervinia, Cortina and San Martino, most with only a few kilometres open so far. Madonna di Campiglio has the most skiing available, with 20km. Temperatures are cold (-10ºC to 5ºC) for the next few days, with snowfall returning later this week.

Scandinavia

Scandinavian ski areas are reporting great November conditions. Most of the big resorts like Sweden’s Åre and Sälen and Norway’s Hemsedal and Trysil are already open, reporting up to 40cm of fresh snowfall in the past few days. Wrap up warm though as Finland’s Ruka and Levi have been posting -25ºC in the mornings recently. Skiing is mostly under artificial light as daylight hours are fast diminishing, but there’s more time to see the aurora.

Finland’s Ruka has been posting -25ºC in the mornings recently
Finland’s Ruka has been posting -25ºC in the mornings recently - Getty

Eastern Europe

We’re still a week or two away from opening in Eastern Europe’s major ski resorts, but there have been some promising snowfalls already. Slovakia’s largest resort, Jasna, reports it has 10-30cm lying on higher slopes already, subzero temperatures and more snow in the forecast before its season starts on Saturday. Bulgarian ski areas have reported several pre-season snowfalls and this past weekend has seen consistent freezing temperatures and more snow falling. That’s forecast to peter out midweek but temperatures will stay low.

Andorra

Andorra’s ski season starts this coming weekend. Temperatures have dropped and up to 35cm of snowfall was reported last week, greatly improving conditions. Staff at Grandvalira, which now runs all the main ski areas including Arinsal, Soldeu and Pas de la Casa, have filmed themselves making pre-season turns in the fresh powder to build anticipation. Elsewhere in the Pyrenees, Spain’s Baqueira Beret has already opened with 25km of slopes available initially. Temperatures are between -9ºC and 9ºC with snow showers this week.