If you want to avoid spending all your savings at the height of the season or you’re just plain anxious to get back on the slopes, early season skiing in December is an ideal choice. Not only do you save a fair amount of money on the whole thing, ranging from ski lift passes to airport transfers, but the slopes are much less crowded, and in most resorts, you can still enjoy some apres-ski activities in the evenings, not to mention far better choice of accommodation.
On the other hand, there’s one thing you must make sure of: decent snowfall and excellent skiing conditions. The following resorts are known as the best European resorts for skiing early in December.
Best for Intermediate & Advanced Skiers
Tignes needs no special introduction. World-renowned as a cosmopolitan high-altitude resort in the French Alps, quite close to the Italian border, Tignes, along with Val d’Isere, is part of the Espace Killy and guarantees excellent skiing conditions even in early December.
Skiers of all levels will certainly enjoy some of its 150 kilometres of runs, but Tignes is especially suited to intermediate and advanced skiers.
Due to the massive glacier of Grand Motte, the resort opens as early as 30th September, and with the high altitude, you may rest assured you’ll find consistent snow conditions even in late November. Besides, in the unlikely event of low snowfall, Tignes boasts an advanced snow-making system that will supplement the lack of any natural snow.
There is a small downside though, Tignes can be a bit pricey, even in December – never the less, you will certainly get value for your money.
More Family-Friendly, Great Après-Ski Experience
Val d’Isere is known as the skiing capital of the world – and with good reason. It has slopes for every level of expertise, and, although sharing an enormous skiing area with Tignes, it breathes a unique, more family-friendly aura, with plenty of après-ski activities.
Val d’Isere’s glacier, les Pissailles, opens at the end of November and is a safe bet for snow even this early in the season.
The village stands at 1850m, below the summit of Pointe de Montet, and if you get there mid-December, you will probably have the chance to attend the Criterium de la Premiere Neige, a competition for skiers and snowboarders that started back at mid-60’s.
Guaranteed Excellent Snow Conditions
Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe, standing at 3230 metres above sea level and situated at the head of the three valleys in the French Alps.
It first opened 40 years ago, and for all these years it’s typically opened for skiing from late November, obviously thanks to its extremely high altitude. Val Thorens is also widely known for its exciting après-ski nightlife atmosphere, even at this time of the year.
Val Thorens is considered ideal for beginners and offers challenging runs for both intermediate and advanced skiers. Simply put, it truly has something for everyone.
Les Deux Alpes
Superb Snow Coverage
Just off the main road from Grenoble to Briancon, Les Deux Alpes offers 200 km of well-reserved pistes, while the off-piste at La Grave is genuinely exceptional.
Les Deux Alpes altitude of 3568 metres ensures excellent snow coverage, though the resort is also well prepared for mother nature’s low spirits, being equipped with the largest snow-producing plant in Europe, operating no less than 900 snow cannons!
To make things simpler for you, let’s just say they could easily fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in only 30 minutes! In fact, you can ski here all year round, even in summer.
If you are also interested in sight-seeing, note that a gondola links to the picturesque lower village of Venosc, whose vibrant nightlife and excellent cuisine is a bonus to the mountain’s irresistible charm.
This Alpine village overlooks the so-called “Four Valleys” skiing area and ranks among the largest in Europe, with more than 90 lifts.
A definite plus is that one ski lift pass takes you across three adjacent valleys and 400 km of linked pistes. You may reasonably expect decent and early snowfall, as well as runs for all levels. Verbier is indeed an excellent choice for an early ski holiday.
On the downside, Verbier has gained a reputation of being a bit expensive, but you will never hear it is overpriced; whenever you choose to go, the standards remain high, and as soon as you hit the slopes and marvel at the view any negative thoughts about the rates will dissappear. Its nightlife wont disappoint either.
Superb Snow in a Picturesque Setting
The picturesque little town of Zermatt is nicely nested 1600 metres below the celebrated Matterhorn peak, which towers above. Zermatt’s ski lifts take you up to the small Matterhorn 3,883 metres, allowing you to glimpse the vast alpine horizon and the Matterhorn itself.
The high altitude combined with the massive glacier ensure stable skiing conditions even before Christmas. In fact, this resort is open all year round – so you obviously can’t go too far wrong by choosing Zermatt. Furthermore, the picturesque setting alone could be the sole reason to want to visit.
Zermatt’s Kid- (and Cheaper) `Brother`
Often described as the ‘pearl of the Alps,’ Saas Fee is Zermatt’s less known neighbour quite close to the Italian border and not far from Geneva. An awe-inspiring cluster of thirteen 4,000-metre high peaks engulfs this glacier village, which is located at 1,800 metres above sea-level.
Saas Fee, being so close to Zermatt, is apparently a great pick for early skiing – and cheaper too. Skiing is possible in December between a 1,800 and 3,500-metre altitude, with access to the glacier and plenty of snow early in the season.
Magnificent Deep Powder Snow
Moving to the Austrian Alps, we find Hintertux as a top-choice early season ski resort.
Hintertux is but a small quaint village hidden away at the end of a valley and offering incredible glacier skiing. It is open all year round, so early December skiing is far from a problem. It welcomes skiers of all levels of experience and skill, but it is a magnet for those who love deep powder snow.
Do note though, because of its size you will need to book early to confirm a place. For an added bonus, as if one was needed, are the award-winning gastronomical delights.
The Best Early Skiing Resort in Austria
This traditional Tyrolean village rises as much as 1,400 metres above sea level, but its highest reaches a staggering 3,000-metres.
The resort is open by the end of November, and, though it has no glacier, is still first-rate for early season skiing. Slopes face mostly north and north-west, which means that snow stays put once it falls. It is linked with Samnaun across the border in Switzerland, boasting excellent snow for at least 60% of the 238 km pistes. In fact, Ischgl stands by far as the best early skiing destination in Austria.
Highest Average Snowfall in Europe
Both Princess Diana and Princess Caroline of Monaco visited this little-known jewel in the Vorarlberg region.
Located on the banks of the river Lech, the homonymous village is an intermediates haven and takes pride at having the highest average snowfall of any European resort, with 10.6 metres per year, making for excellent powder runs. The top lift stands at 2450m on north-facing slopes, and the snow sprayers maintain 185m of runs in excellent shape when necessary.
Family-friendly, Great for Rookies
Closing our picks on Austria, we have Obergurgl, one of the highest ski villages in Europe (1,930 metres).
Situated at the end of the Otztral valley, close to Innsbruck, the resort opens in mid-November and is considered by many professional skiers as the country’s most reliable for early snowfall. There is a mid-mountain link to neighbouring Hochgurgl at 2,150 metres, also a well-developed glacier going up to 3,080 metres.
Obergurgl is an excellent family destination, great for beginners and new intermediates, but it might seem a bit easy to seasoned skiers. There are 110km of pistes with 24 lifts.
Best for Beginners and Intermediates
Cervinia, despite being named after a mountain close-by, actually lies on the southern side of the Matterhorn and shares a lift pass that covers 350km of pistes, with 59 lifts.
Situated in the Vale d’Aosta region of northwestern Italy, the place is vast: you could ski all day here and never use the same run twice. It is a skier’s paradise and best for beginner and intermediate levels, although experts can find something to suit as well.
The resort opens on the 28th of November each year. Hence good December skiing is failsafe on the glacier, mainly due to its exceptional height, (the top lift rises at 3,820 metres) and proximity to Switzerland.
Small, Serene and Nice for All
The beautiful ski resort of Val Senales, right between Austria and Italy, is quite small but easy to reach. It opens as early as September and can supply up to 35% of the slopes using the snow cannons.
There is a cable car up to the glacier of Hochjochferner that takes only 6 minutes for a 5-mile downhill run! All-level skiers are well catered to its 35km of pistes. There are 17 marked ski trails with 12 lifts and a gondola.
Base of the Italian National Team
This compact resort has grown in popularity the last decade, owing to its excellent accommodation, food and reliable snow coverage, at least from late October, thanks to the 3,000-metre high Presena glacier.
Most members of the national Italian ski team train here, but its most of its slopes are ideal for beginners and intermediates. Linked by lift to Ponte di Legno and Temu, it poses few tough challenges to advanced skiers.
Built for the 1994 Winter Olympics, this resort has something for everyone from gentle slopes to Olympic standard runs. There are 11 lifts and the highest mountain in 1029m above sea level.
The resort is open from mid-November and, despite its relatively low altitude and lack of glacier, its snow conditions are outstanding. The laid-back nightlife and excellent cuisine (too good for a Scandinavian resort!) have boosted its repute as an excellent early ski retreat.