An interview with Graham Bell: top tips for late-season skiing

I was luckily enough to interview Ski Sunday presenter and former winter Olympian skier Graham Bell for his thoughts on late-season ski holidays.

These days, some of the world’s top ski resorts stay open until early May, so you’ve still got plenty of time to bag a great deal on a late-season ski holiday. But which regions are the best and what are the pros and cons of booking a ski holiday outside the peak periods?

Banner image credit: Michael Neumann

Here’s to being fashionably late

So what are the main advantages of signing up to a late-season ski holiday? “The advantages are simple: better value and great snow because it will have been snowing all winter” says Graham. Jetting off later is also a brilliant option for families with young children in tow. “You’ll enjoy longer and warmer days – you’ll worry about putting sun cream on kids rather than them getting cold!

Go high or go home

For Graham, it’s all about height. “If you go late you’ve got to go high to get the best snow,” explains Graham. Another factor to consider is the resort’s location within its mountain range. For example, when it comes to the French Alps, resorts like Tignes are more likely to have better late-season snow because of their position in the middle of the Alps – sheltered from the elements and away from the northern edge, where the warming effects of the Gulf Stream are strongest.

Vive la France

France has Europe’s most popular ski areas, including some fantastic late-season options such as Val Thorens and Les Arcs. As for Graham’s favourite French resorts? Those would be Val d’Isere and Tignes, two neighbouring resorts connected by ski lifts. The Tignes glacier means it’s possible to ski year-round in this high altitude resort. “These are my favourite late-season destinations, although I’d stay in Val d’Isere, not Tignes, which you can easily ski to from Val d’Isere,” reveals Graham. “There’s normally snow there until the end of April.”

Alpine alternatives

It’s not just France that has some great late-season snow. “Cervinia in Italy has a really long season,” says Graham. It can also provide a base to other nearby destinations as Graham suggests “staying here even if you fancy skiing in Switzerland’s Zermatt resort as it’s just over the border with cheap accommodation”. Graham doesn’t stop there, advocating the US and Canada as potential alternatives where “Colorado has some really high resorts, including some brilliant smaller ones like Arapahoe Basin. In Canada there’s Whistler, which also has a really long season.”

Extreme options

Heading further afield can kill two birds with one stone; you’ll be able to get a skiing fix during the British summer and you’ll also get a unique perspective on a lesser-known destination. “I’ve done quite a bit of southern hemisphere skiing and the best time to go skiing in New Zealand is the middle of our British summer,” says Graham. “Personally, I’d opt for South America – either Argentina or Chile. The snow’s better and the ski areas are at a higher altitude, so you can do some really great skiing. In New Zealand, the snow can be good but the resorts are quite small so unless you’re heli-skiing, getting to them can be tricky.”

Due south

If you fancy following Graham’s advice and heading to South America, where the ski season runs from June until October, Argentina is a great place to start. “Although Argentina is relatively short of resorts, if you go to somewhere like Las Leñas or Bariloche you’ll find lakes, mountains and beautiful scenery. That’s not to rule out Chile, though, as it’s home to three big resorts just a 90 minute drive outside Santiago – El Colorado, Valle Nevado and La Parva.”

Hot stuff

Another advantage of a ski holiday in South America? When your friends return from resorts like La Plagne or Verbier to boast about the brilliant snow and how they spotted Prince William eating raclette in a mountain restaurant, you’ll be able to trump them with stories of deserted pistes and nature in its rawest form.

“There are several volcanoes in these ski areas,” says Graham. “If you’re into ski-touring (cross country and uphill skiing) and want some adventure, head to Chapelco in Argentina. It’s a region filled with volcanoes and mountains. But they haven’t invested much money in the ski resorts because volcanoes tend to explode and destroy ski lifts!”

Fake it

It’s also worth remembering that, these days, most ski resorts have fantastic snow-making equipment, so a lack of the natural stuff isn’t a problem. The resorts with the best equipment are often the larger ones. “Manmade snow lasts longer than natural snow,” points out Graham. “It doesn’t crystallise, like snow, and it’s packed together so it doesn’t break down as quickly. Often the snow you’ll see in resorts late in the season will be leftover manmade snow, rather than natural snow.”

Global warning!

As for those scare stories of melting mountains and vanishing ski slopes? The effects of rising temperatures on ski resorts are rather complex but there’s certainly no reason to bin the skis quite yet. While it’s logical to anticipate late season skiing becoming more common with warmer temperatures occurring, Graham urges caution. “Ski seasons are getting pushed later and later,” he says. “But this doesn’t necessarily mean less snow – you still get seasons with huge amounts. It’s just less reliable and more sporadic.”

Image gallery credits: 1) Adrian Myers, 2) andyparant.com, 3) andyparant.com, 4) Adrian Myers, 5) Tamara Hinson, 6) andyparant.com

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