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How to find a snow-sure ski resort

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Not all winters are created equal. While some winters offer lots of snow, others offer almost none at all.

Everyone who has been on a ski trip, with no snow can agree, that looking up at closed ski runs with huge spots of green grass or trying to ski in heavy slush is just as depressing as it sounds.

And, unfortunately, with warmer global temperatures due to climate change, we can expect less snow, fewer glaciers and shorter seasons in the future.

Skiing is expensive, and the thought of spending half of your vacation due to lack of snow is just no fun at all.

First, let’s take a look at what you should look for in order to find a snow-sure resort. And second, let’s have a look at 20 of the world’s best resorts for guaranteed snow.

How do I find a snow-sure ski resort?

There are four critical things to look for if you want to increase the odds at finding a snow-sure ski resort: the location, the altitude, a glacier, and north-facing slopes. Snow-cannons also help and are common at most resorts, but fake snow alone doesn’t make a snow sure ski resort. Not all are necessary, but the more of these parameters are present, the better the chances for guaranteed snow. As a general rule of thumb, places where you can go for summer skiing, are also a good bet in the winter.

Let’s go into this in more detail. At the end of this blog post, you’ll find my take on a top 20 list of snow-sure ski resorts plus a few honorable mentions.

How do I know if a ski resort is guaranteed snow based on its’ location?

Mountain Ridges Behind Snowbird and Alta

The short answer is, that you don’t. You’ll increase your chances of finding a snow-sure resort if you don’t look at the location alone.

However, some resorts are just endowed with a very lucky placement, when it comes to weather systems.

The closer you get to the arctic circle, the more likely you are to finding snow on the slopes.

Riksgränsen, in Sweden, is the world’s most northerly ski resort, and is just 250km within the Arctic Circle. It offers 199km of piste, great off-piste, heliskiing and snowboarding opportunities from February to June. And because of its location, you’ll get to ski under the midnight sun from mid-May.

Alyeska in Alaska is another safe bet when it comes to a snow-sure location. Alyeska receives a vast amount of snow each year. It is placed near the coast, which can make the snow slushy at lower elevations, and it is pruned to bad weather. But the average amount of snow this location gets each year more than makes up for it.

Both Riksgränsen in Sweden and Alyeska in Alaska are close to the arctic circle. The downside to choosing resorts at these latitudes is, that it is bloody cold most of the time. So make sure, to wear a jacket, with good insulation. You can read more about choosing the best ski jacket for your type of skiing in this blog post.

Ski resorts like Alta and Snowbird near Salt Lake City in Utah also get a lot of snow. The good conditions for snowfall are due to The Great Salt Lake, north-west of Salt Lake City, which warms the air and adds extra moisture. When the air rises, it cools and drops vast amounts of snow over Alta and Snowbird.

The snow resorts in Japan are endowed with a similar phenomenon and get up to 15 meters of snow each season. Freezing cold winds move down from Siberia and pick up moisture and warmth from the Sea of Japan.

Resorts like Myoko Kogen and Shigakogen on the Japanese mainland are usually safe bets for snow-sure locations, but also the Niseko United resorts at Hokkaido are good locations.

Go high! High altitudes ski resorts have better chances for snow

Tignes, Le Clavet, Tarentaise, France

The higher you get, the higher the chances are of finding snow on the slopes.

And if you want to increase your chances of being able to ski all the way down to the entrance of your hotel, you should look for resort, that in itself is placed at high altitudes.

Look for ski resorts above the freezing level and the snow level

In essence, you want to be as high above the snow level and the freezing level, as you possibly can.

The freezing level is the altitude, at which the temperature drops to freezing (32 degrees F/0 degrees C). 

The snow level is the height separating snow from rain. Below the freezing level, snow starts to melt. It takes an average distance of approximately 1,000 feet/300 meters to turn the precipitation from snow to rain.

The levels are dependent on factors such as the amount of moisture in the air, the sublimination and warm fronts.

The temperature drops 5.4 degrees F per 1000 feet (9,8 degrees C per 1,000 meters) if the weather is dry, and 3.3 degrees F per 1,000 feet (6 degrees C per 1,000 meters) if it’s snowing.

In short, a high altitude resort will be colder (due to it being more above the freezing level), than a low altitude resort. And that it turns make high altitude ski resorts a better bet for a snow-sure ski trip.

The highest snow-sure ski resorts in the world

The highest resort in Europe is Val Thorens in France. This satellite village lays at 7,546 feet (2,300 meters) and is a safe bet for snow and when you want to be able to ski all the way to the entrance of your hotel.

Val Thorens also happens to be part of Les 3 Vallées, the largest ski area in the world, with over 85 percent of the terrain at altitudes above 5,906 feet (1,800 meters). The highest ski runs reach altitudes of up to 10,597 feet (3,230 meters).

Cervinia in Italy is also a good bet for a snow-sure skiing holiday. Cervinia lies at 6,581 feet (2,006 meters) above sea level, and is connected to Zermatt in Switzerland through the Plateau Rosa glacier. The highest slope peaks at 12,791 feet (3,899 meters) on the Zermatt side of the ski area. The Plateau Rosa glacier lies at approximately 11,483 feet (3,500 meters) and allows for skiing in the summer as well.

If North America is the destination for your next ski trip, and you want a high altitude resort, you could go to Breckenridge in Colorado. The resort itself lies at 9,600 feet (2,900 meters), with its highest lift – the Imperial Express Superchair ending up at 12,840 feet (3,914 meters).

If you really want to visit a high-altitude resort, you can go to Chacaltaya in Bolivia, which happens to be the highest ski resort in the world. The resort also has the highest surface lift in the world, which peaks at 17,785 feet (5,422 meters), which is higher than Mt. Everest base camp.

Chacaltaya is not your go-to resort for a family-friendly ski trip. The high altitude can cause altitude sickness, and it is extremely cold. Up until 2009, it was possibly going there for summer skiing on the glacier, but now the glacier has melted due to global warming. In the later years the lift, that used to carry skiers to the top, has closed as well. There’s only a single run at Chacaltaya, and you have to hike to get there.

Look for a ski resort with a glacier nearby

Zermatt Switzerland with fresh snow on a beautiful day.

Glaciers are found at high altitudes and are a good thing to look for when you want a snow-sure ski trip.

Glaciers are huge blocks of dense ice, which are constantly moving under their own weight. When skiing on a glacier, you should never leave the marked trails without a guide, because the stresses induced by their weight create crevasses of up to 330 feet (100 meters) deep.

Glaciers are excellent at preserving snow (they are basically a giant freeze pack) and make for some excellent skiing. 
That’s why glaciers are also essential if you want to go skiing in the summer. 

Glaciers do become icy though when the snow gets scraped off. So take it slow.

Ski resorts which have a glacier

As I’ve already touched upon, the Plateau Rosa glacier connects Cervinia in Italy with Zermatt in Switzerland. At an elevation level of 11,483 feet (3,500 meters), it is also the highest glacier, which allows for skiing in Europe. The Plateau Rosa offers 21 kilometers of groomed slopes for all levels of skiers, and it is also open for summer skiing.

Another favorite ski destination of mine is Sölden in Austria. Sölden can brag about having two glaciers available for skiing: the Rettenbach and the Tiefenbach.

Here I am at the top of one of the Big 3 peaks in Sölden (I can’t remember which one of the peaks it is!)

Combined, these two glaciers offer skiers 37 kilometers of prepared pistes, with skiing suitable for all levels of skiers. Sölden has opened up three mountains, with groomed slopes at elevations higher than 9,843 feet (3,000 meters) – the Gaislachkogl, the Tiefenbachkogl, and the Schwarze Schneid – also known as “the Big 3”. 

In Tignes in France, you can ski on the Grande Motte glacier to a height of 11,339 feet (3,456 meters). And Tignes is connected to Val d’Isere. In Val d’Isere you can go ski on the Pissaillas Glacier at 11,444 feet (3,488 meters). Together the two resorts form the Espace Killy ski area with 300 kilometers of ski runs.

Whistler and Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, offers skiing (in the winter as well as the summer) due to the vicinity of the Horstman Glacier laying at 7,642 feet (2,329 meters) above sea-level.

In the summer, you can usually find a small snow park, moguls and groomed slopes. Sadly, due to global warming, building a snow park has proved difficult in recent years. So summer skiing in Whistler might be coming to an end very soon.

Timberline Lodge ski area in Oregon, USA, offers skiing all year due to the Palmer Glacier on the south slopes of Mount Hood. The glacier peaks at 9,300 feet (2,800 meters) and is open all year except for two weeks each September due to maintenance.

North-facing slopes are your descending road into winter

It might not sound important, but which corner of the world the ski slopes are facing actually has a huge impact on how good the snow conditions are. 

I remember one ski trip in particular, where the effect of having North-facing and South-facing slopes became distinct to me.

I had booked a ski trip to Serre Chevalier in France, a beautiful ski area, which consists of 250 kilometers of groomed slopes and has up to 300 days of sunshine a year.

My hotel was in Villeneuve at the bottom of a North-facing mountainside. It was in the third week of January, with lots of snow falling each night, and sun all day.

I could ski all the way down through the tree lines slopes all the way to my hotel. And it was obvious it was in the middle of winter, as the entire village was covered in snow.

But as I went up and over the mountain, and started my descend down the South-facing slopes, I was greeted by spring. I remember skiing all the way to the bottom, and the snow turned into slush.

At the very bottom of the last slope, I had to take off my skis and walk the final distance to the village. I found a place to get a soft drink, took off my jacket, as it was too hot, and I sat there listening to the birds of springtime.

After that, I took the lift back up the mountain and started my descent back into winter.

It was a really magical experience.

Snow-cannons

Snow-cannons are man-made snow, and they have become much more common in the last decades. And as the temperature rises across the globe, my guess is, that we’ll be seeing the more snow-making technology in the near future.

Snow-cannons are used all over the mountain e.g. from the glaciers near the peak during the summer to the bottom of the slopes at low-altitude resorts in order to prolong season.

While snow-making technology has come a long way, it just doesn’t make it up for the real stuff. But snow-cannons does vastly increase the area, you can ski, as well as the length of the skiing season. So they’re really nice to have.

Top 20 snow-sure resorts in the world

Below, I’ve compiled a list of top 20 snow-sure resorts in the world. They are alphabetically ordered, and I’ve put some time into writing, why you can expect them to be snow-sure as well.

So here goes nothing…

1. Alpe d’Huez, France

Alpe d’Hues in France is a high altitude resort placed at 1,450 meters, which features a total of 250 kilometers of prepared slopes for all level of skiers.

The resort is referred to by the French as l’Ile du Soleil, which means “Island in the Sun” due to its southern orientation and many hours of sunshine.

The top elevation is 3,330 meters, and the base elevation is 1,120 kilometers. Due to the high altitude of the resort, the many hours of sun doesn’t shorten the season.

Alpe d’Huez also features the longest ski run in the world – the Sarenne ski run – which is 16 kilometers long, more than enough to get those quads pumping.

2. Alta/Snowbird, Utah, USA

The resorts of Alta and Snowbird in Utah, USA, lay at altitudes between 2,470-2,600 meters. And you can ski at altitudes between 2,365-3,350 meters.

The combined ski area feature 219 kilometers of groomers ( 116 km in Alta and 103 km in Snowbird). The ski area receives more snow than most Utah resorts, due to the high altitude and feature some good North-facing slopes with some of the best powder in the world.

You can ski from Alta to Snowbird via the Connection gate or through three rather difficult terrain gates. It does require ski passes for both areas. You can buy combined passes at the resorts.

Keep in mind, that Alta is one of three American resorts, to completely ban snowboard. But while Alta is ski only, you can ride on the slopes of the nearby Snowbird.

3. Alyeska, Alaska, USA

Alyeska is endowed with lots of snow each year due to its Northern placement near the coast.

While the resort itself lay at a mere 80 meters above sea level, and the top lift served slope is only 840 meters, the unique weather conditions surrounding the resort gives Alyeska one of the highest snowfall averages in North America.

Alyeska feature 73 ski runs, a total of 62 kilometers, for all levels of skiers.

Go to Alyeska in March for a chance to see the beautiful Northern Lights (Aurora  Borealis) in the night sky.

4. Arabba-Marmolada, Italy

The Arabba and Marmolada (the “Queen of the Dolomites”) ski resorts are located in the Province of Belluno in Italy.

The resorts are not very big. Arabba has 63 km of pistes at altitudes between 1,602-2,478 meters, and Marmolada only has 20 km of pistes at altitudes of 1,450-3,265 meters.

But what the areas lack in quantity of slopes, they more than make up for in quality, with Mount Portavescovo being a top priority for many skiers. The two areas are part of the amazing Dolomiti Superski ski area in the Dolomites and include the Sella Ronda loop, which connects the four Dolomite passes of Campolongo, Gardena, Sella, and Pordoi.

The Arabba-Marmolada ski area has some of the best skiing in the world.

5. Breckenridge, Colorado, USA

Breckenridge is a high altitude resort, which lies at 2,900 meters above sea level, and is guaranteed snow each season due to its high altitude. The Imperial Express Superchair will take you to a whopping 3,914 meters.

Breckenridge features 153 kilometers of groomed slopes for all levels of skiers. Most runs are tree runs. That’s a good thing because due to the high altitude of the resort most of the peaks are very windy.

You should watch out for altitude sickness when you visit Breckenridge. It’s rare to find hotels at such altitudes, and most people aren’t used to spending all day at such heights.

6. Engelberg, Switzerland

Engelberg is situated near Luzern in Switzerland at an altitude of 1,020 meters. It features 89 kilometers of groomers for all levels of skiers.

Engelberg is a good example of a ski area, that benefits from North-facing slopes combined with high altitude skiing above 1,800 meters.

High mountains surround the village with peaks above 3 km, and the beautiful Mt. Titlis (3,238 meters) provides for some excellent skiing.

You’ll find excellent off-piste opportunities and lots of possibilities for snowboarders as well.

7. Hintertux, Austria

The Hintertux Glaciers are world-famous for being the only year-round ski resort in Austria.

The glaciers in the Zillertal valley in Tyrol (Fügen, Hochfügen, Finkenberg, and Zell am Ziller) is a well-known ski area with excellent slopes.

The entire Zillertal ski area features 588 kilometers of slopes!!

You can stay, e.g., in Mayrhofen (633 meters above sea level) or Zell am Ziller (575 meters above sea level) and visit the glaciers from there. Both the Tuxer Ferner glacier and the Tuxertal are accessible with modern lifts. The highest elevation is 3,250 meters.

8. Ischgl, Austria

Ischgl is located in Paznoun-Ischgl in Tyrol in Austria and connects with Samnaun in Switzerland.

Combined the two resorts make up the Silvretta Arena, which features 239 kilometers of groomed slopes for all levels of skiers. The terrain spans altitude levels between 1,377 and 2,872 meters, which make Ischgl an excellent high-altitude ski area.

Ischgl is also famous for its after-ski and cozy atmosphere.

9. Cervinia-Zermatt, Italy-Switzerland

Cervinia in Italy is connected to Zermatt in Switzerland and is dominated by the iconic and beautiful Matterhorn.

The ski resort features 322 kilometers of nicely groomed slopes at elevations between 1,562 and 3,899 meters for all levels of skiers.

The two areas are connected by the Plateau Rosa glacier, which is the highest skiable glacier in Europe, with an elevation level of 3,500 meters. Zermatt also features the worlds highest (and most posh!) gondola, which will take you all the way up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at the Klein Matterhorn at 3,820 meters.

10. Dachstein Glacier, Austria

The Dachstein Glacier (Dachsteingletscher)  is located in Schladming-Dachstein in Austria. The ski area features a total of 193 kilometers of pistes with skiing available for all levels.

The glacier offers skiing at elevation levels between 2,264 and 2,700 meters. Summer skiing is also available.

You can stay at the nearby villages of Ramsau am Dachstein (at 1000 meters)  or the cozy Schladming (at 750 meters). Both villages are good places for beginners and families.

11. Grand Targhee, Wyoming, USA

Grand Targhee is a small resort near Alta in Wyoming, USA, which usually gets a lot of snow each season.

Though the resort is in Wyoming, it is only accessible from the west, through the town of Driggs in Idaho. Its base elevation is at 2,258 meters, and the top is at 3,006 meters, which makes it a high-altitude terrain.

It only offers 35 kilometers of groomers and two terrain parks but receives a whopping average of 1,270 centimeters of snow each season.

12. Les Deux Alpes, France

The ski resort Les 2 Alpes in France offers 200 kilometers of groomed slopes at elevations between 1,280 and 3,523 meters.

The ski resort itself is located at 1,650 meters, which makes it possible to ski all the way to the hotel entrance.

Les Deux Alpes has a little bit of everything. It has good slopes for beginners, but also excellent off-piste areas and a large snowpark for freestyle skiers.

13. Myoko Kogen, Japan

Myoko Kogen (at 2,454 meters) in Japan gets vast amounts of snow each year due to cold winds from Siberia pick up moisture and warmth from the Sea of Japan. The snow falls over Myoko Kogen, which receives up to 15 meters of snow each season. The average snowfall is somewhere between 13 and 14 meters!

The Myoko Kogen ski area is made up of the three resorts Myoko Akakura, Myoko Suginohara, and Ikenotaira Onsen and is one of Japan’s oldest ski areas.

The area offers Japan’s longest ski run of 8,5 kilometers and excellent mogul and off-piste-skiing opportunities.

14. Passo Tonale, Italy

Passo Tonale (at 1,883 meters) is a small village in Italy.

It is one of several high altitude resorts (Ponte di Legno/Tonale/Presena Glacier/Temù) located in the Val di Sole ski area with a total of 266 kilometers of prepared pistes at elevation levels between 1,121 and 3,000 meters.

Passo Tonale is connected to the Presena Glacier which offers ski and snowboard opportunities for all levels.

It is placed among the highest peaks of the Central and Eastern Alps and is endowed with lots of snow each season.

From Val de Sole you can gain further access to the Superskirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta ski area, which brings the total number up to 380 kilometers of groomers.

15. Sölden, Austria

Sölden is a snow-sure high-altitude resort with two glaciers

The ski resort of Sölden in Austria is placed at a high altitude of 1,377 meters and is endowed with having two glaciers – the Rettenbach and the Tiefenbach.

Sölden is part of the Sölden-Hochsölden-Vent ski area and offers three mountains with prepared pistes above 3,000 meters – also known as The Big 3.

Even though Sölden offers terrain for all levels of skiers, I wouldn’t recommend it as the first choice for beginners.

If you’re loaded with cash, you can stay in the posh upper village of Hochsölden (at 2,090), which has five four-star hotels, their chairlift with access to the area and offers the possibility to ski directly to the front door of the hotel.

16. Tignes + Val-d’Isere, France

Tignes consists of five ski resort lying at altitudes between 1,550 meters for the lowest village of Brévières to Val Claret and Le Lac at 2,100 meters.

Val d’Isere lays at an altitude of 1,850 meters.

Together the two resorts form the Espace Killy ski area with 300 kilometers of groomed slopes for all levels of skiers at altitudes between 1550 meters and 3450 meters.

The Grande Motte glacier features a snow park and allow for summer skiing from July to early August and has 20 kilometers of pistes and a 750-meter vertical drop.

17. Timberline Lodge, Oregon, USA

Timberline Lodge in Oregon, USA, is not very big, and only offers 31 kilometers of prepared pistes at elevation levels between 1,478 and 2,603 meters.

However, the ski resort lies in the vicinity of the Palmer Glacier and offers skiing all year round (except for two weeks in September).

18. Vail, Colorado, USA

Vail is located in Eagle County in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and is usually a safe bet when it came to snow and received an average of 940 centimeters each season.

The ski resort itself lies at 2,500 meters, which makes it a high-altitude destination.

Vail offers 234 kilometers of slopes at elevation levels between 2,470 and 3,527 meters, which spread across the three sections of Vail Mountain: The Front-Side, Blue Sky Basin, and the Back Bowls.

 It is an excellent place for powder, though the back bowls do quickly turn into slush in the spring.

19. Val Thorens, France

Val Thorens in France is the highest ski resort in Europe with an altitude of 2,300 meters.

While the famous ski resort lack coziness and atmosphere it more than make up for it in the quality of skiing available.

As part of Les 3 Vallées (the Three Valleys), Val Thorens has the largest ski area in the world with a total of 600 kilometers of pistes. Of these 85 percent are above 1,800 meters, and the elevation level of the total area is between 1,100 and 3,230 meters.

You can choose to ski in the windy high alpine terrain with cliffs or through nice tree runs further down the mountains.

Val Thorens offers skiing for all levels of skiers.

20. Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada

The Whistler and Blackcomb resorts are located in British Columbia in Canada. Combined the two resorts make up Canada’s largest ski resort with over 200 kilometers of groomed pistes at altitudes between 653 and 2,284 meters.

The two areas are connected by a cable car and have ski runs for all levels of skiers.

Whistler and Blackcomb are located in the vicinity of the Horstman Glacier (situated at 2,329 meters above sea level). Because of the Horstman Glacier, it is possible to ski in the summer as well as in the winter.

A few honorable mentions

It thought I’d end the article with a few other honorable mentions, which didn’t make a list for some reason or the other.

All of the snow resorts below are also good bets when it comes to finding a snow-sure ski resort for your next skiing holiday

  • Kaprun, Austria
  • Kirkwood, California, USA
  • Loveland, Colorado, USA
  • Mount Baker, Washington, USA
  • Niseko United, Hokkaido, Japan
  • Saas Fee, Switzerland
  • Shigakogen, Japan
  • Stubai Glacier, Austria
  • Winter Park, Colorado, USA
  • Wolf Creek, Colorado, USA

What do you think? Do you agree with the list or should it have looked differently? And did I forget an important resort? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

top 20 snow-sure ski resorts with guaranteed snow

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