Finding good snow early in the season can be a challenge. Snowfall before Christmas varies from place to place, year to year. Some spots are more reliable than others though. Here are a few locations that are usually a good bet for finding powder to ride in November and December.
The best ski destinations for the end of the year (November/December)
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.
Early start of the season in Russia / Siberia
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.
Skiing in Caucasus
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
Skiing the Altai Mountains
Every October and November snow spreads across the vast Siberian plain. The first snow falls in Northern and Eastern Russia and then, gradually works its way west towards Europe. Winter may still be some time away in the Alps, but in Siberia, it’s often already taken hold by late October.
Russia, along with countries like Georgia and Albania, represents the new frontier in adventurous freeriding. It’s a country that has an enormous untapped potential for skiers looking for new places and zones to explore.
The Altai Mountains are located right in the centre of the Eurasian continent. It’s frosty part of the world. Due to the mountains and prevailing weather systems, it’s also a place that receives a lot of snow. By November the Altai Mountains are usually covered with deep powder.
The Altai Mountains have varied terrain that’s perfect for catskiing. A mix of both, big alpine and some great trees for low visibility days, means you can get the most out of whatever conditions you find. Plus with catskiing, there are no down days, waiting for the weather to improve and it’s more affordable than heliskiing too.
Russia might not a place to go for the big 5-star lodge experience, but if you’re looking for early season pow, then it’s definitely one of the best options.
Our recommendations for Russia
Heliski at it’s best in British Columbia in December
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.
Skiing at the BC coast
There are two ways to ski BC, either on the coast or in the Interior. The coast’s obvious focal point is Whistler which usually opens in mid to late November. Some of the resort’s backcountry zones may remain closed and off limits early in the season, but there’s still likely to be a big choice of areas in which to ski. Whistler Blackcomb has updated its lift system for this winter too, making it quicker and easier to reach the alpine on Blackcomb Mountain.
The Coast Mountains stretch northwards from Whistler all the way to Alaska. There are many heliskiing operations in the Coast Range, and most are open for business in December. There’s a reason why BC has more heli options than anywhere else in the world; big mountains, big snow, and endless empty terrains make this the perfect place to get your heli accessed powder fix.
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.
Skiing Interior BC
Early season cat or heliskiing in Interior BC can be spectacular too! Yes, the snowpack isn’t as deep as later in mid-winter or spring, but it’s a time when the mountains usually see regular storms which provide the kind of snow locals refer to as cold smoke; super cold, and super light snow that’s awesome to shred. It’s also the cheapest and quietest time to heli or catski too.
A good option for an Interior BC trip is to base yourself out of one of the ski towns like Revelstoke or Fernie. It’s crazy how many cat and heliski operators are based within an hour of Revelstoke. Throw in some amazing backcountry touring around Rogers Pass, plus the lifts at Revelstoke Resort, and there should always be some great skiing to be found.
Our recommendations for British Columbia
Ski the last remaining pristine wilderness, Antarctica
Even in today’s travel-centric world, very few people get the chance to visit Antarctica. Even fewer get the chance to ski or snowboard there. As the last remaining proper pristine wilderness on the Planet, Antarctica is a special place that should be cherished by everyone who loves wild places.
Early winter in the northern hemisphere means early summer in the south. It’s prime time to ski in Antarctica as the days are long and the snow is generally at its most stable.
Most Antarctic trips depart from the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, before sailing south through the inlets of beautiful Tierra del Fuego, past the infamous Cape Horn and on towards the Southern Ocean. This is an adventure for sure, but full-service accommodation and excellent facilities ensure a comfortable life on board the boat.
Skiing in Antarctica is a little different to your typical resort or backcountry trip. First of all, just getting to the snow requires a trip on shore in a zodiac. From then on, it’s good old human powered skinning and hiking to reach the goods.
Antarctic mountains often rise up straight out of the ocean which gives some spectacular skiing. With slopes on all aspects and terrain that varies from fairly mellow to very steep – there’s something for everyone. As ever, snow conditions can change. However, due to the proximity of the super cold Antarctic land mass temperatures are low. Add to this the copious amounts of moisture provided by the surrounding ocean, and you’ve got a good recipe for lots of powder.
Any trip to Antarctica is always going to be about a lot more than just skiing though. Expect to see all manner of remarkable wildlife including Penguins, Whales, Seals, and Albatross. It’s also about just being there and experiencing one of the most remote places on Earth.
Our recommendation for Antarctica
The classical one - The Alps are always a good choice, even in early season
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.
Our recommendations for the Alps