When Is the Best Time
Whether you are a beginner or an expert, not knowing the best time to go skiing can depending on your expectations, somehow ruin your next ski vacation. Our ski professional traveled to nearly every major resort in the United States and in Europe at different times to provide you with unique must-know tips for the best skiing months.
The best time to ski is from late December to March when most resorts offer great snow conditions. Additionally, you can find less busy times between the major holidays. Some resorts have their best snow in mid-January, while others provide perfect conditions in February or March.
Check out our full guide with unique tips from the most experienced ski experts:
Best Time to Ski for Perfect Snow Conditions
It is generally agreed that the perfect snow conditions is where the snow coverage is excessive and the snow itself is soft and slick. This is the type of snow where the most aggressive and impressive skiing can be performed. However, skiers of different abilities often find different snow conditions can suit them better.
For beginners, the best snow conditions tend to be found at the start or end of the ski season. At this point, though snow coverage can be a little lackluster, the snow that is present tends to be slow and slushy, having been warmed up by the sun.
Slow snow can make learning to ski a lot more enjoyable and can also make mastering the basics of skiing a much easier process as you will be moving slower on your skis.
For advanced skiers, the best time of the year to ski is without a doubt late January or early February. The coldest time of the year provides slick fast pistes and the appearance of ice on certain slopes can create an exhilarating challenge for even the ablest skiers.
Pair this with the incredible powder that can be found during this time of the year, and you really do have a skier’s paradise.
For Intermediate skiers, the perfect snow conditions are found where there is skiable powder and pisted runs can be slick, but there is little to no risk of ice. This tends to be found towards the end of December or the beginning of March.
Best Time to Ski for Cheap and with Fewer Crowds
If you want to go on a ski holiday with fewer crowds and for a cheaper price, there is one simple rule to follow. Don’t book during a school holiday. It is important you don’t underestimate how much more expensive skiing during a school holiday can prove to be.
The cheapest and emptiest times of the ski season are of course at the very beginning and end. This includes November and early December, as well as Late April and early May.
However, if you are looking for a cheaper, less crowded holiday with close to perfect snow quality, then mid-late January is your best bet as the snow is getting consistently better and you might still be able to take advantage of some of those new year deals on offer.
Best Skiing Equipment
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Skiing in November
Planning your skiing vacation in November is always going to come with some risks to it. Being the very start of the season snow quality is far from its best. However, the sometimes disappointing snow conditions can be made up for by the opportunity of a quieter, cheaper holiday.
If you’re looking for a ski holiday on a budget, this might be the perfect time for you.
With even those ski resorts that open earliest only doing so towards the end of November, it should come as no surprise that snow quality and coverage is extremely hit or miss at this time of year.
Expect fun skiing one day followed by a complete lack of snow coverage the next. What snow there is tends to be slow and slushy. This type of snow would be ideal for beginners if it wasn’t for the lack of snow coverage making it difficult to learn.
Don’t expect many runs to be open and don’t expect the opportunity for any powder days as there simply won’t be enough snow in the resort at this time of year.
Crowds and Rates
The resorts themselves won’t be busy during this month. All but a few summer and fall vacationeers will have left the mountains. Moreover, many of those hoping to do a ski season won’t arrive until December when snow conditions begin to improve. Therefore, ski slopes will be mostly filled with locals who are there on day or weekend trips.
Children will be in school so there will be few families around the resort at this point and thus you can expect a fairly relaxed atmosphere. This of course means there will be little congestion and plenty of space to park a car should you choose to drive to the resort.
💡 As a number of the slopes will be closed at this time of year, those who are skiing can all end up funneled into the same few runs. However, the slopes should remain sparse enough for you to enjoy them with plenty of space and little to no queueing.
This is one of the cheapest times of the year to book accommodation as all the summer tourists are leaving their apartments and so their owners are looking to fill them as quickly as possible. Often the number of apartments available at this time of year far outweighs the number of visitors and so if you look hard enough there is the possibility of finding some brilliant deals on accommodation.
Furthermore, as this is not considered peak season skiing some resorts also offer discounted rates on ski passes which can be extremely useful too.
Snow is scarce and therefore your best chance is to pick a resort that opens as early as possible. You’ll be able to ski at whatever resort you choose, as if this wasn’t possible, they wouldn’t open their lifts in November.
However, those resorts that open earlier in November are a safer bet than those which open at the very end of the month. In the USA try Great Divide in Montana or resorts in Colorado. In Europe try Hintertux in Austria.
- Great Divide (Montana, USA): The Great Divide ski area is well-known for being the first ski in Montana to open each year, as well as for offering lift tickets that are reasonably priced. It usually opens its doors in mid-November, in some years even earlier. A relatively safe bet for early season skiing in mid or late November.
- Arapahoe Basin (Colorado, USA): This is typically the first Colorado ski resort to open. Arapahoe Basin is a safe pick for early-season ski vacations starting in November, or even October.
- Hintertux (Austria, Europe): Good skiing is guaranteed thanks to its glacier which is open 365 days a year. The non-glacial parts of the resort are well shaded allowing better snow coverage.
Skiing in December
Skiing in December is an experience everyone should try at least once in their life. You will find yourself in a resort buzzing with excitement as the new ski season really starts kicking into gear.
Furthermore, with major events such as Christmas and New Years Eve taking place, resorts transform into magical winter wonderlands, perfect for spending time with family or friends.
Snow conditions at the beginning of December can be patchy, with some US resorts only opening halfway through the month. Expect some days where snow coverage is sub-par. This is not yet the coldest time of the year and this can lead to some slushy snow, particularly on warmer days near the beginning of December.
However, you will find that this quickly changes as you head towards the end of the month. The weather becomes progressively colder and with it comes a much better snow coverage throughout the resorts. By the end of the month, you can also expect to see much less slushy snow and even some good powder.
Crowds and Rates
If you’re looking for a quiet ski holiday during December, your best chance is to go at the very start of month. With the season slowly kicking into gear, the majority of resorts are mostly filled by locals and those embarking on ski seasons at this time.
By going early in the month, you will be able to avoid the busyness of the holiday season. Therefore, you can expect to find emptier slopes and minimal queues for ski lifts.
Christmas and New Year are two of the biggest and busiest periods of the ski season. This a period where schools are closed, and children are on holiday. If you choose to ski at any time from the week prior to Christmas to New Year’s Eve, you should expect higher-priced accommodation and extremely busy slopes.
However, this is an ideal time to go to fulfill your dreams of a white Christmas. Or if you’re looking for a party, ski resorts around the world are known for laying host to incredible New Year Celebrations.
One of the best times to ski during this month is early on Christmas morning. Most people (especially families) will spend their morning waking up late and opening presents before skiing in the afternoon. Therefore, slopes tend to be much emptier than normal before midday.
As the weather is still unreliable in the early parts of this month, you want to choose a resort that is high up, in order to increase the chance of having good snow. In the USA try Breckenridge resort whilst if you find yourself in Europe try Val Thorens in France.
- Breckenridge (Colorado, USA): Often opens in early November and is quick to pile on snow with the start of an expected annual snowfall of 300 inches.
- Val Thorens (France, Europe): Highest ski resort in Europe at 2300m and part of the Three Valleys ski area, boasting a massive 600km of piste and ensuring a variety of areas to explore even early in the season.
If you’re skiing around Christmas or New Year you will want to look for a slightly smaller resort to avoid huge crowds on the slopes. Try a resort like Wolf Creek in Colorado if you’re looking in the US, or Selva in Italy if you’re looking in Europe.
- Wolf Creek (Colorado, USA): Receives up to 11m of powder a year and is a little more remote than many of the other resorts creating the perfect combination of powder and no crowds.
- Selva (Italy, Europe): A small mountain village and part of the biggest ski area in Europe. This enables good quality skiing whilst avoiding the crowds of other larger resorts.
Skiing in January
January marks the start of a new year and with it comes to a step into some of the best skiing of the season. January is very much a month of two halves.
Thus if you plan your ski vacation during this time of year, it’s extremely important to choose the right dates depending on your wants and needs for your ski holiday. Whether you want a busy and vibrant experience, or a quiet and relaxing one, this time of year can offer it all.
January offers some of the best skiing of the season because this is the month when snow conditions start to change dramatically. The snow coverage is noticeably better at this point compared to the beginning of December and as such, you should expect to find every run in the resort open.
As the month goes on the snow coverage will only improve and it is at this part of the season that you will start experiencing numerous big powder days thanks to the build-up of snowfall. We are also heading towards the coldest time of the year and so you shouldn’t expect to find any slushy snow, even on sunny blue-sky days!
Drawbacks: The extra snow does come with drawbacks:
- The avalanche risk will be much greater, though if you stay on the piste the risk of being struck by an avalanche is minimal.
- You should also expect to experience more ‘white-out’ ski days. This is where the combination of snow and clouds can make it extremely hard to distinguish what’s in front of you and can therefore make navigating slopes tricky.
Crowds and Rates
The First week of January remains busy following New Year as most children will still be on their Winter Break from school. However, following this week almost all families will leave the resort in addition to many groups of young people who stay in the resorts to experience the New Years’ celebrations.
When these people leave, they tend to be replaced by groups of more experienced and serious skiers, particularly those into backcountry skiing.
Good to know: There will be not nearly as many people arriving as there are leaving. This means that whilst the resort still has a certain buzz to it if you are a beginner this can be a good time to learn as the easiest slopes will be emptier than normal.
Moreover, due to many families leaving, ski schools won’t be as crowded at this point and so you can more easily book a place at one.
It is well known that the January New Year sales can make their way into ski resorts too. People around the country are spending less money following the festivities of Christmas and New Years eve so not only can you experience some helpful discounts on accommodation, but those discounts could also spread to ski gear and other activities you may want to try.
Good to know: As we are reaching the peak of the skiing season you should not expect these discounts to be found with ski passes as they will almost certainly remain full price.
Emptier resorts and incoming snow make this the perfect opportunity to visit some of the biggest and usually busiest resorts around. Nevertheless, when choosing these resorts it’s recommended that you choose a resort that delves in and out of the tree line.
This way of beautiful powder days there will be endless routes for you to explore but equally, on overcast white-out days you can drop below the tree line for improved shelter and visibility. In North America try Whistler Blackcomb in Canada and in Europe try St Anton in Austria.
- Whistler (Canada): More than 5000ft separates the village from the peak of Whistler resort. This allows a good range of skiing both below and above the treeline. Busy all year but this is one of the quieter times.
- Vail (Colorado, USA): Around Christmas, Vail has an average terrain open ratio of 80 percent. Only 15% of seasons see less than 50% of terrain available by the holidays. That’s why January is the greatest time to visit Vail for overall snow conditions until mid-February.
- Steamboat (Colorado, USA). Located in a corner of north central Colorado, Steamboat’s conditions are at their best in mid-January. Dry powder enthusiasts should plan a trip in January (or December).
- St Anton (Austria, Europe): With over 300km of pistes and renowned off-piste, this is Austria’s most famous ski resort. Also well known for its incredible après ski.
Skiing in February
February is considered by many more advanced skiers to be the best month of the year for skiing, and rightly so. An absence of congestion anywhere in the resort is met with the best snow conditions of the year and as a result some of the best skiing of the year.
Back-country skiing particularly thrives at this time of year, though you should be aware of the avalanche risks that come with heavy snowfall.
February brings with it the best snow quality of the year. Early February is around the coldest time of the year, though the month remains cold throughout. For this reason, you should expect pisted runs to be fast and slick. You won’t find any slushy snow on the mountain at this time of year.
Tip: Days following nights of little snow can leave pisted runs to become icy and extremely fast so it’s best to take care you only tackle runs within your ability. This will keep you and those around you safe by reducing the risk of losing control.
February, much like January, can also yield host to magnificent powder days, perhaps the best of the entire season.
Crowds and Rates
With no Major school holidays in February, the month remains quiet in comparison to the busyness of late December and early January. Nevertheless, with this month providing not only the best but also the greatest range of skiing of the season, the resort will still feel busy with everyone itching to get up the mountain and stay there for as long as possible.
Queues: At this point in the year there will be some queues. This will especially be the case early in the morning after a dump of fresh powder, with many people queueing a full hour before the lifts open so that they can be the first to create fresh tracks down the mountain.
However, by the afternoon most significant queues should have died down as most of the fresh snow will have been tracked out.
Prices: Being peak season, the cost of ski passes will be at their highest. Accommodation, while cheaper than peak holiday season in December, will not drop to the kind of prices you would find in November. Indeed, most prices will be middle-of-the-park at this time of year.
February is the perfect time to explore resorts with beautiful villages that will be covered in snow. Equally, this is the time of the year when you should be looking for a resort that covers a large area and has a lot of variety including lots of off-piste. Sometimes quieter resorts can also be extremely fun at this time of year, though all resorts will be far from stretched in numbers. In the USA try Jackson Hole in Wyoming and in Europe try Chamonix in France.
- Jackson Hole (Wyoming, USA): Situated at Teton Village and home to the infamous Corbet’s Couloir. Red Bull’s Kings and Queens of Corbet’s is held during this month of the year too. A great spectacle to watch.
- Chamonix (France, Europe): considered to have some of the greatest off-piste in the world, including the famous Vallee Blanche. Charming village and a number of different skiable mountains.
Skiing in March
Following the hard-core skiing of February, things begin to tone down again in March. Snow quality will slowly begin to decrease but will remain good. March is a month synonymous with the flourishing of the apres-ski scene, which truly begins to thrive at this time of year. If you’re looking for a party atmosphere throughout the ski resort, then this might be the perfect time for you.
Whilst snow quality and coverage remain good at the beginning of March, towards the end the quality can start to suffer. Sunny days and rising temperatures will mean slushy snow will slowly become more prevalent. There are ways to avoid this.
You can oftentimes manage this by either sticking to runs within the treeline or runs that are found on North-Facing slopes. Runs within the treeline are shaded by the trees and therefore the snow doesn’t become slushy as quickly.
Meanwhile, due to the rotation and tilt of the Earth, North-facing slopes receive much less sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere compared to South-Facing slopes.
Whilst the snow quality does begin to decrease you can look forward to an increasing amount of skiing under blue skies. There will still be some opportunity for off-piste skiing, but not as much as in the previous months of January and February.
💡 The Avalanche risk will remain as the sun can cause slabs of snow to become lubricated by melting snow beneath it and therefore slide, causing avalanches. Again, staying on the piste greatly minimizes the risk of this happening.
Crowds and Rates
The end of March can often see the start of Spring Break and with it comes a huge number of families flocking to ski resorts for a last chance to ski. Predictably, road congestion in and out of resorts can be significant and parking can become not only hard to find but also expensive.
If planning a vacation at the end of March, you should certainly look to make use of public transport as much as possible. Apartment prices of course go up with the beginning of the holidays and ski schools will again become very full.
The warm weather also brings with it some of the best après ski of the season. You will find an increasing number of outdoor performances and dancing as well as a real party atmosphere throughout the resort.
Moreover, at this time of year, other mountain activities start to become more common with the good weather, giving you a wide range of opportunities to try something new. Activities such as paragliding become popular, and some resorts build giant pools of water on the slopes which you can try to ski across.
March is a month when you want to look for a resort that has a mixture of good skiing conditions and great après skiing. This will allow you to let loose in the warmer spring weather whilst still having an opportunity to enjoy good snow quality. In the USA try Beaver Creek in Colorado and in Europe try Tignes of Val D’isere in France.
- Beaver Creek (Colorado, USA): With a top elevation of 8100 ft and 55% of its slopes being North facing, snow quality holds up well during March.
- Tignes or Val D’isere (France, Europe): These resorts share a ski area known as the Espace Killy. It is well known for its late-season powder but even better known for its après ski with bars such as the folie douce being a top attraction.
Skiing in April
April marks the end of the ski season for all but a few resorts. Snow coverage continues to shrink and runs start to close due to lack of snow.
However, for many, this is a great time to learn in the slower snow and enjoy their spring break under blue skies. Indeed, this can prove to be the perfect month for skiing if you’re looking for a relaxing time skiing in beautiful warm weather. It is also worth looking for resorts famed for their apres-ski at this time of year.
Much like November, April is a month far from ideal snow conditions. Coverage becomes sparse, particularly towards the end of the month. This is due to warmer temperatures as we head towards Summer, in addition to less snowfall.
💡 The heat of the sun also causes the snow that remains to become slushy and slow. The lack of snowfall means you will struggle to find powder and several runs across the resort may begin to close.
However, April can be a lovely time for slow and relaxing skiing. There are many sunny days with blue skies where you can cruise along slopes enjoying the weather. The great weather also means that you can often hit the slopes with little more warmth than a jumper and gloves.
Crowds and Rates
The beginning of April is of course very busy with families due to Spring break and accordingly, prices, therefore, are high. However, once this is over and those families have returned home the resort sits in a very interesting period. The slopes become very quiet and empty allowing you to enjoy little or no queues and wide runs all to yourself.
The resort will also be fairly empty at this point, but you will slowly begin to see an influx of summer guests. This completely changes the vibe of the resort as you find yourself in the middle of a mix of winter sports enthusiasts and summer sports adventurers.
Following Spring Break, things start to become increasingly cheap. By this point, you are skiing out of peak season and therefore at some resorts, you will be able to gain a discounted price for your ski pass.
Furthermore, with many more people leaving the resort than entering it, accommodation will become significantly cheaper. This is also the perfect time to take advantage of sales from winter sports shops should you want to buy any gear for the future.
To end the season, it is again a case of simply finding those resorts that are either highest up or close to the latest in the season.
Equally, look for resorts that offer other activities such as waterparks or paragliding for days when there simply isn’t enough snow to have an enjoyable time skiing. In the USA try a resort in the Arapahoe Basin in Colorado and in Europe try Obergurgl in Austria.
- Arapahoe Basin (Colorado, USA): Resorts in this basin are unique in that some of them will stay open into June or even July. This means snow is assured for some relaxing April skiing.
- Obergurgl (Austria, Europe): One of the alps’ most snow sure peaks with the village sitting at nearly 2000m above sea-level. The 112km of piste will almost all remain open throughout the month.