Are you a multimillionaire or a professional ski bum? If your answer is a definite ‘no’ then you, like me, probably need to plan your ski trips in advance. But when is the best time to go? This is the question on every skier’s lips.
January vs March
Recently, there has been a swing from March skiing to January. Until 2 years ago January was considered the ‘off’ season, with cold, short days, while March was perfect with longer, sunny days. Interestingly, in recent winters this has changed, January has caught up and, in some cases, overtaken March. It’s difficult to explain this swing with any certainty, but it has levelled out the price for January skiing to match weeks in March.
Know your snow
Snow is obviously a huge factor. We all need good snow for a good ski trip but the fashion on what kind of snow you ‘need’ has changed. 5 years ago perfectly groomed, fast and grippy pistes were the order of the day and technology advanced to make carving skis essential, letting intermediate skiers turn easier and faster. It was all about railing turns and cranking up the speed. March was the perfect time – firm pistes, bright sunny days and after a long morning covering as much distance as possible, a long lunch whilst perfecting that tan.
Be clear on gear
Back in the day, on carvers and old skinny skis you had to be a dam good skier to tackle deep powder. Then snowboards came along, ski companies saw how effortlessly they floated through the soft snow, and ‘fat’ skis were born. Some of the early models were based on water skis – Shane McConkey developed the K2 Pontoons from their water based cousins. So now people find powder and off piste a lot easier and it’s very common to see intermediates battling the backcountry wearing transceivers and back packs. New skis are making it easier to get to dangerous places. A risk? Yes. But skiing would not be the same if it was safe. The testosterone-filled male 10 years ago wanted race kit – his hero was Herman Mayer, now it’s super fat skis, a back pack with airbags and he looks up to Seth Morrison.
Be more adventurous
Just because January is cold, it doesn’t mean there’s more snow about. A lot of snow experts see March as the best time for off-piste skiing – it’s a lot safer for starters, as the early snow has settled and bonded. With more and more ‘holiday’ skiers venturing off the safe, groomed runs, resorts famous for their groomed pistes are slowly on the decline and off-piste havens are on the up. Recently I skied in Davos, unpopular for off piste, and skied fresh powder for 4 days just beside the piste. I then drove to St Anton and had to catch buses and hike 30 minutes for anything like that.
And finally… ignore the news
People have long memories for ‘bad’ snow years, but even last year, which ended badly, you could ski to the bottom in April. Generally, March and April are strong months and the pistes are in great condition. Take the Haute route as an example – a ski tour from Chamonix to Zermatt – which takes place almost exclusively between the end of March and May. Last season, the lack of snow made front page news in December, but this has since turned into the best season for generations. Blessed with some epic days (in between the anomaly people are loathe to hate – too much snow), bottomless powder and phenomenal piste skiing. It’s the unpredictability that keeps us on our toes. Something so different from everyday life, it never stops luring you in.
As for my next ski trip, which month am I going to travel – I might just cheat and go in both January and March!
By Paul Markham, General Manager of Supertravel Ski