Going on a skiing or snowboarding trip early in the winter has its obvious challenges and risks. However, some places are more suitable for an early season trip than others and with a bit of planning good skiing and snowboarding is possible in November and December.
Where to ski early in the winter
The key to picking a spot to hit early in the winter is snow reliability and terrain. Some places tend to get hit with storms earlier than others so get a rideable snow pack first. Some spots have the kind of terrain that doesn’t need a huge amount of snow to come into condition so are often in good shape after just one or two snowfalls.
With a little research it’s usually possible to ride great powder in December and sometimes even November too. Snowfall and conditions obviously vary from year to year and it’s always best to head to wherever has the best conditions at any given time. However, if you’re planning ahead and looking for some locations that are likely to be on in the early winter then here are a few suggestions.
Russia’s untapped skiing potential is really only just coming to the fore. In such an enormous country I guess it’s unsurprising that there are some really awesome mountains. Both the mighty Caucasus mountains in the west and the remote Altai range in Siberia further east are good options for early season shred.
The Caucasus are just as impressive as the Alps and much more remote. They have a reputation for receiving big snowfalls and are often a good spot to head for some early season pow. A really great way to explore these mountains is by heli. There’s even the opportunity to stay in ex Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev’s former holiday residence.
The heliskiing terrain in the Caucasus is sometimes described as a cross between the Alps and Japan. Steep faces and couloirs combine with some of the best and deepest tree skiing to be found anywhere. Heliskiing in the Caucasus is right up there with some of the best in the world
Siberia is the enormous area in central, north and east Russia where the winters are long, snowfall plentiful and the temperatures are some of the lowest on Earth. The Altai Mountains are an impressive chain of peaks that in most years are already covered in snow by October.
A cat skiing trip to this area should be high on the list for early season pow seekers, especially considering that skiing in Russia is not only an amazing adventure but also great value for money too. The terrain is a nice mix of open trees low down and big bowls and chutes to shred in the alpine. Cats can operate even in storm conditions so riding everyday is guaranteed.
If you’re looking for early season powder, the best bet is probably Canada, and more specifically British Columbia. The capital of cat and heliskiing, BC has an unbeatable combination of vast mountain wilderness and supreme snow.
From the coast to the interior, conditions in December are often already deep, especially in the backcountry. Many heliskiing companies have great deals during December and if conditions are good, it’s a great time to go. Cold temps and regular snowfall often occur at this time of year bringing epic powder.
BC’s north coast region benefits from both proximity to the moisture laden Pacific and also the lower temperatures that the area’s higher latitude brings. The result is a very snowy climate and some of the best powder in the world. There are several heliskiing operations in this area including ones that specialise in small group heliskiing in spectacular terrain near to the coast and also operations in the huge wilderness further north close to the border with Alaska.
The South Coast region contains the mega resort of Whistler – perhaps the world’s best ski resort. Opening day is usually mid to late November and even if conditions aren’t amazing there’s such a huge amount of interesting inbounds terrain in Whistler it’s difficult to get bored. Cat ski and heli ski options are also close by.
Interior BC is littered with heli and cat skiing operations that offer great early season options. Combine a few days warming up at Revelstoke resort with some epic backcountry powder at the many catski and heliski options nearby. Or sample some of Nelson’s cultural delights before hitting up the awesome low key resort of Whitewater then shredding some Selkirk powder in the surrounding backcountry. There are many options in Interior BC and they all guarantee incredible skiing. In the neighbouring province of Alberta, the resorts of Lake Louise, Banff and Sunshine Village will for sure be open by the end of November too. All three have a great mix of terrain and are surrounded by an incredibly beautiful landscape.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and often attracts good early season conditions. The great thing about the Mont Blanc Range is that it catches storms from most directions so chances of finding good snow somewhere in the area is usually higher than elsewhere.
If storms come in from the south or south west then it’s a good bet that Courmayeur and the south side of Mont Blanc will get hit. Courmayeur is a great resort in itself that not only offers awesome lift served skiing but also heliskiing. The south side of Mont Blanc is almost Himalayan in scale and one of the most impressive faces in the Alps. Heliskiing in this area is an awesome way to both access great snow and also experience true mountain grandeur.
If storms come in from the north and west then it’s time to check out Chamonix. The Chamonix valley is a really special place and has easy access to an abundance of high altitude freeride terrain. The Aiguille du Midi lift provides experts with access to incredible skiing and if other lifts in the valley are open there are endless freeriding possibilities. Heliskiing packages are also available in the Chamonix valley.