The Question: When is the best time to ski?
The Answer: Well that depends... Here's how it breaks down-
Early season/ before Xmas - If the snowcover is there, then this is a great time to go piste skiing, but head for the tree-lined resorts rather than the rocky ones; that is, if you value the condition of your skis! (I've learnt this the hard way in Meribel!) You will find some fantastic value chalet holidays early on, and if the early snows grace us again, as they have done for the last couple of years (I skiied on Nov 14th in St Gervais is 2009!) then go for it. The pistes will be quiet and so will the resort.
School holidays - Xmas, New Year, Feb half-term, Easter - Avoid them if you can! These weeks will ALWAYS be busy. especially if the early season snow is good . But if you have kids, and this is the only time you can get away, then your best bet is to go somewhere with a large ski area, but not a large name. Head to 'The Three Valley's' or 'Espace Killy' and you wont be able to breathe. Look further afield and head to the Four Valleys in Switzerland, the Espace Diamant, or the Evasion Mont-Blanc. Oddly, if you really value your empty pistes, the Christmas day and New Years day are often deserted, so drag yourself out of your chalet and enjoy the pistes to yourselves.
January - It will be cold, with lots of snow and lots of space. The last two January's have seen loads of snow, yet low queues, making it a great time to head out if you can hack the coldest part of the season. With the cold keeping the snow perfect, January is ideal for those who like to ski hard all day everyday. There will always be cheap weeks going last minute in January, so grab yourself a cheap chalet holiday. This isn't really a time to come out for sunshine skiing and long lunches though, more of that later!
February - Excluding the English half-term, February should still be a great month to ski, and there will doubtless be plenty of cheap weeks on offer, but be warned... The European half-term's span over the whole month, and can lead to busy pistes on any day. The best way to avoid them is to head to less well known resorts, or the resorts that seem harder to get to, and will put attract less local holiday-skiers up for the day/weekend.
March - Ask any seasoned skier worth his salt when is the best month to ski? and the answer will be fairly unanimous. March is great for skiing. Low queues, the highest snow level, and the sun starts coming out more and more often, so this is a perfect time for a slightly more relaxed ski holiday, or for families...in fact, for anyone!
April/Late Season - Obviously your choices are limited by the amount of snow a resort has and also its closing dates, but April is a great time to come for a relaxed week in the snow and the sun. The lifestyle slows down a little, perfect for those who like to hit the slopes a little later, and have a good long lunch in the sun. No point heading out at 8am now, let the snow soften up for 10am and have a more relaxed week.
So which are you? An all-day-every-day mileage hungry piste beast? or chilled out April skier who can appreciate the 'holiday' part of a 'Ski Holiday'?
Jamie Forrest is a passionate and accomplished skier and chef based in The French Alps, where he runs Ski Bliss, an independent chalet company offering tailor-made catered ski holidays. If you enjoyed this article on when to ski, then follow this link and find out why 'the guardian' called Jamie "the sweetest and most devoted chalet host in the Alps" http://www.ski-bliss.com