So you either missed the winter ski season, or had such an awesome time that you’re just not ready to accept that it’s over for another summer (we’ve all been there). Fear not! You don’t have to trawl to the other side of the world to find snow in the summer. There are more options available to you than you think – plenty of resorts in the Alps have glaciers, snow all year round at altitude or snow parks that keep the snow topped up for your pleasure. Below is a list of summer skiing options for you to explore.
Zell Am See-Kaprun – Austria
Thank heaven for glaciers – the Kitzsteinhorn glacier at Kaprun in Austria is snow-covered all year round. With an altitude of about 3200m, it’s the highest mountain in Salzburgerland, and is very popular with skiers, snowboarders, freeriders and hikers who fancy the crampon and ice pick look. With a series of red and some blue runs, the skiing offers phenomenal views, and there’s also a snowpark which, while closed for the summer itself, nevertheless opens for eight months of the year. For more information about the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, check out its official website at en.kitzsteinhorn.at.
Zell Am See itself is a pretty little place, technically carrying city status but actually only holding a population of about 10,000. It dates back to the Roman times, but has really taken off as a ski resort in the last hundred years, with the first winter sports festival taking place in 1906.
Mayrhofen – Zillertal Valley, Austria
Mayrhofen, an Austrian Alpine town of under 4,000 people, has a very helpful nearby attraction for those seeking a bit of summer skiing: the Hintertux Glacier (www.hintertuxergletscher.at). Rising to over 3,400m, the Hintertux is kept groomed throughout the summer with 60km of pistes. Only 18km – a short bus journey – from Mayrhofen, it has blue, red and even a couple of black runs, so there’s something for everyone. While you’re up there, if you fancy hiking to the summit, you can do that with a guide, too. Meanwhile, back on the slopes, you’ll find the Betterpark (www.betterparkhintertux.at), Hintertux’s snow park, open from April to October, with easy, medium and pro lines available for all those who want to practice their tricks.
Mayrhofen also hosts the famous Snowbombing Festival, an electro-dance music and winter sports festival lasting a week, in Spring each year. Recent years have seen rock and indie acts added to the list, as Snowbombing has grown in popularity.
Sölden – Ötztal, Austria
Sölden is well known for its two glaciers: Rettenbach and Tiefenbach, which have a ski tunnel connecting the two at 3,240m. Sölden was once one of the most favoured summer skiing areas in Austria; now, due to the change in climate throughout Europe, Sölden’s snow is no longer reliable throughout the summer months. Nevertheless, Sölden opens early, from September 7, by which time many of the slopes have enough snow. This gives you an early start on the ski season, and with 37km of ski runs of a mixture of levels, it’s a very good start. Tiefenbach glacier has particularly wide, rolling slopes which are great for both views and beginners, and Rettenbach has more challenging terrain for those who fancy something a bit harder. For full facts and figures, check out www.soelden.com.
Sölden traditionally hosts the first Apine Ski World Cup race every year, and also has in its pistes Snowpark Sölden which caters for freestylers. Sölden is in the Ötztal Valley, which is well known for being the location of the discovery in 1991 of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300 year old natural mummy who had been preserved in a glacier and has shed lots of light on the people of his time.
Zermatt – Matterhorn, Switzerland
Zermatt is one of the last ski resorts in Switzerland to offer year-round skiing, thanks to the higher summer temperatures which have knocked out other summer ski options. The glacier here is also in retreat, but there are still 25km of skiing and eight ski lifts open all summer for you to have a crack at. It’s also pretty much the highest available option, with the Klein Matterhorn cable car travelling up to 3820m. The runs, like much glacier skiing, are open and wide, but experts can get some serious speed up and there are a few moguls to keep things interesting. Things get pretty slushy in the afternoons so the lifts close at 2pm, but they compensate for it by opening at 7am. The Gravity Snowboard Park is also on the mountain and stays open all the way from May to September, and Zermatt is very popular with freestylers refining their skills. Check out www.ski-zermatt.com for full park details.
Zermatt is particularly well-known for its placement on the Matterhorn mountain, the first successful ascent of which killed four out of the seven climbers in the party in 1865; nowadays, of course, it is regularly enjoyed as one of the most beautiful treks in the region and is climbed by thousands each year.
Saas Fee – Saastal, Switzerland
Saas Fee, the main village in the Saas Valley, is happily in close proximity to two glaciers, one of which, the Allalinhorn, is directly over the summer skiing area, which includes a snowpark. You’ll find 20km of skiing on the glacier, up at 3,600m,though you’re not supposed to ski off-piste because falling down a crevasse and breaking your legs is frowned upon. The snowpark has a decent amount of rail, tables and kickers, along with a pipe, and it also hosts the Saas Fee Ride competition every July – expect DJs and barbeques along with high level skiing. Saas Fee is Zermatt’s neighbour, and is beautifully car-free, with a very laid-back atmosphere. Check out www.saas-fee.ch for full facilities and info.
On a pop culture note, remember Wham!’s song Last Christmas, with its painfully Eighties music video? Saas Fee was one of the locations for filming.
Espace Killy’s Glaciers – Val d’Isere/Tignes, France
Val d’Isere and Tignes are comfortably close ski resorts in the French Alps, in one of the best areas in Europe for skiing throughout the year. Thankfully, you can find some summer glacier skiing in this region, though dates and times of year are changing due to climate change and slushy snow. Within the Espace Killy ski area, above Tignes, you will find the Grande Motte glacier, upon which is 20km of skiing terrain. Once it was open for year-round skiing, now it closes for a couple of weeks a year. Technically you can go wherever you like, but the rocks and crevasses which are starting to make themselves pointedly known make it unadvisable. There’s red, blue and a black run available. You’ll find it open from the end of June until the beginning of September, when the lifts run from 8am until 2pm, after which the snow is just too wet and heavy.
Alternatively in Espace Killy there’s Pissaillas glacier, which is directly above Val d’Isere and accessed from the Le Fornet cable car. It’s open for a much shorter space of time – June 9 to July 15 – but it makes for nice enjoyable skiing.
Passo Tonale – Italy
Italy isn’t known for its terribly high skiing, but it does have a glacier or two to give avid skiers a bit of summer skiing action. In particular, the Passo Tonale gives access to the Presena glacier, the skiing of which extends up to just over 3000m. The terrain isn’t huge – one black and two red runs – but there is a snowpark at 3000m. It’s also not open all summer – it was once the guaranteed place to go in Italy for year-round skiing, but the glacier is melting – it’s lost a third of its volume since 1993. You’ll find it open until the end of June, when it closes until early October; in the months in between they now wrap it in a thermal blanket (seriously) to try and keep it from melting.
A good option for a day on the Presena glacier is to ski in the morning and then spend the afternoon hiking – the views are stunning.
Flattach – Molltal, Austria
Flattach ski resort gives you access to the Molltal glacier, which is the only year-round skiing glacier in Carinthia. Opening times are a bit sketchy – theoretically, various bits and bobs of the glacier, including a couple of lifts and 8.5km of slopes, are open throughout the summer. More realistically, it depends on the weather and the snow conditions, but in an ideal situation the lifts run from 8am until 4pm. It’s also the most southern glacier in Austria, reaching up to just over 3000m.
Neustift im Stubaital – Stubai Glacier, Austria
Nestling in the Stubaital Valley in Austrian’s Tyrolean Alps, Neustift is a traditional, picturesque little village, boasting the Saint Georg church, which happens to be the second largest in Tyrol and has a very richly decorated interior. Neustift dates back to the Roman era and is incredibly scenic. It also lies in close proximity to the Stubai glacier (www.stubaier-gletscher.com), which provides activities all year round. Skiing and snowboarding was once year-round; now the retreating glacier is wrapped up for a few months a year in an attempt to stop it melting, but nevertheless it still has an extended ski season, from mid-September (depending on the snow) through until June. The glacier skiing runs from 1750m to 3210m in altitude, and it has a bonus couple of extras: a racecourse and a speed test. It also has a snowpark up there: the hilariously named Moreboards Stubai Zoo (www.stubai-zoo.com), which is open in Spring and Autumn and has nineteen shaped obstacles in the way of kickers and boxes and so on.
Neustift is also only 45 minutes travel from Innsbruck, the beautiful capital of the region, which makes a nice day trip.
St Leonhard im Pitztal – Pitztal Glacier, Austria
St Leonhard im Pitztal is a small resort, the nearest resort to the Pitztal glacier. Pitztal glacier (www.pitztaler-gletscher.at/en) is the highest in Austria, and offers some nice open skiing which is really good for beginners and intermediates, with prepared areas ranging between 1740m and 3440m in altitude. There’s roughly 20km of pistes which are groomed on the glacier, but if you’re prepared to hire a guide then you can get some good off-pisting in, too. The good people at Pitztaler glacier guarantee snow from September until May, so again, this is an extended winter season rather than through-summer skiing. The Pitztal glacier is also the starting point for a very popular ski tour to the highest mountain in the Tyrol region, Wildspitze, which measures up at 3774m.
St Leonhard itself is a nice place to stay – it is known for having quite a few quirky bars and decent nightlife, and the snowboarders who are visiting the region will be thrilled to know that the glacier also has a snowpark at 3000m which has three areas and a new half pipe.
Les Deux Alpes – France
Les Deux Alpes is one of the few remaining ski resorts in France offering summer skiing, with lifts open from mid-June until the very end of August – there has to be some time for maintenance between seasons. You can get access to the glacier via the Jandri Express gondola, which leads you to a vertical mile of slopes back down to the resort and 272 acres of ski area. Like with many other summer ski options, lifts open early – 7.30am – and close early – 1.30pm – to give you the best snow conditions, and this also means that you can get half day passes for the second half of the skiing day and the icy conditions will have been softened up for you by the early birds. There are twelve ski lifts of varying kinds and eleven runs (sorry – no blacks), not to mention one of the world’s most famous snowparks where professional freestylers from all over the world come to train. The snowpark is also host to the annual Kumi Yama freestyling competition, which is very worth watching if you’re around.
Les Deux Alpes, being both large and popular, is a great place for apres-ski and nightlife, with tons of bars and clubs and some great restaurants. It may not be the prettiest resort in the Alps, but it has character.