1. Tignes (France)
Whilst nearby Val d'Isere is the popular choice for both Birts and early season ski racing (the opening
downhill race is often held here), Tignes is the better bet for early season snow.
The high altitude of the resort (2100m) means there's a good chance of December snow even at village
level, but it's the slopes above the resort and up to the 3500m Grande Motte glacier that provide
almost guaranteed December snow. Skiing on the glacier, accessed via an underground funicular, obviously
provides guaranteed skiing right through Autumn, but the much larger ski area known as Espace Killy
usually opens at the end of November.
The resort was built in the 1960's, and although recent development work has tried to improve its image,
some of the old architectural handy work still, how can we put it, shines through.
However, this shouldn't detract from what is one of Europe's best early season ski resorts.
2. Hintertux (Austria)
Hintertux is one of Europe's top summer ski destinations, so it's hardly a surprise to find that the resort
makes it into our list of the
top 10 resorts for early snow.
The glacier itself provides much greater variety than many of it's Alpine rivals, and features one of the
steepest glacial areas in Europe, Gefrorene Wand (German for 'Frozen Wall'). The glacier provides 15km of slopes even
in the summer, rising to 50km in late Autumn. However, by December the north-facing pistes further down the
valley are often open, opening up an even larger area that can even link through to nearby Mayrhofen.
Hintertux is a popular early season destination with German skiers, especially at weekends, and although this can make
it busier than some of the other early-season resorts, it does give it a good lively feel, something many
skiers are after.
3. Cervinia (Italy)
Another less-fashionable neighbour of Zermatt, Cervinia is just over the border in Italy, set in the
foothills of the Matterhorn (or Monte Cervino as the Italians call it) and surrounded by the same vast range of
4000m plus peaks.
Whilst it shares the same ski area as Zermatt it has the advantage in early season that the resort
itself is nearly 400m higher than it's Swiss counterpart, which can make a big difference in December
when the temperatures and snow depths are still up and down. It's also a damn sight cheaper too, although
if it's the glitz and charm that goes hand-in-hand with Zermatt then it's probably worth paying the extra.
For intermediates and beginners wanting to sharpen up their skills, Cervinia is a great option.
4. Saas Fee (Switzerland)
Often overlooked in favour of it's more famous neighbour Zermatt, Saas Fee is a great choice for some
early season skiing.
As with Zermatt it's situated in one of the drier areas of the Alps, but again the high altitude of the resort,
a ski range right up to 3500m, and a glacier right above the village, all adds up to a great choice for those wanting a
good chance of early pre-Christmas snow.
The glacier that overlooks the village actually allows skiing all year round, but
if you can wait until December then many more of the surrounding pistes and lifts will have opened
allowing a much wider range of difficulty and terrain.
The village itself is fantastic as well, with a
great traditional feel to it, and a real favourite with families.
It's not hard to see why it's nicknamed 'The Pearl of the Alps',
with thirteen 4000m+ peaks surrounding it,
including the Allalinhorn and Dom, Switzerland's second highest mountain at 4545m.
The village is situated high up in the
Saastal Valley at an altitude of 1800m and has a fantastic view of the Fee Gletcher (glacier), which really
far end of the valley and almost appears to be tumbling down into it.
It's a traffic free resort as well - you can get to the village by road, but if you're travelling by
car you need to park just outside the village.
5. Obergurgl (Austria)
One of the few non-glacier resorts that opens in November, Obergurgl is Austria's highest resort at 1930m.
This altitude, along with it's location right in the heart of the Alps (giving it some added protection from the affects
of any mild weather fronts) means it tends to hold onto it's snow more than many other resorts.
Unlike many of France's less-aesthetic purpose-built high altitude resorts, this has the advantage of having a more traditional,
picturesque village centre at it's base.
6. Kaprun (Austria)
Kaprun is the neighbour of the bigger, and slightly better known, resort of Zell Am See. However, whilst Zell's skiing
season is limited by the relatively low top-altitude of 2000m, Kaprun has access to much higher, snow-sure slopes,
with the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier guaranteeing early season snow. The resort usually opens in the last 2 weeks of November,
although the glacier is open all year round.
7. Val Thorens (France)
When it comes to reliable, extensive skiing terrain, few places can rival Europe's highest resort. As well as the altitude advantage, Val Thorens also has a high proportion of north-facing slopes and access to not one but two glaciers. If there's no snow at Val Thorens it's highly likely that there's no snow elsewhere in Europe !
8. Les Deux Alpes (France)
Another in the list of classic high French resorts, Les Deux Alpes has a large glacier area and a high proportion of
north-facing slopes that don't lose the snow once it's fallen for a long time.
The resorts official season opening is normally at the end of November.
9. Zermatt (Switzerland)
It may be located in one of the driest parts of the Alps, but it's also one of the highest, so thanks to it's altitude
Zermatt tends to keep hold of it's snow once it's had some.
10. Levi (Finland)
Ok, so Finland's top ski resort may not have the vertical drop or the range of skiing of its
Alpine counterparts, but what it lack in these area it makes up for in another - snow.
It falls gradually
from the start of October, and once it's started it doesn't tend to go away. This is due to Levi's latitude - 90 miles
within the Arctic Circle. Obviously this does have drawbacks - it can be absolutely freezing, and the
chances of bright blue skies diminish the closer you get to the longest day, 21st December, when
the only brightness you'll see will be from the pistes floodlights. However, Levi has a nice, modern,
clean feel to it, and whilst advanced skiers may struggle to keep themselves occupied for a full week there's a host of
other activities to have a go at, and, as it's in Lapland, it's a great place to take a family.
Levi's snow record has been recognised over the last few years by the FIS, and it now stages one of
the World Cup's early races, usually men's and women's slaloms at the start of November.