March skiing

March is probably my favourite month for skiing, the longer evenings and sunny skies heralding Spring. And, of course, you do tend to get Spring ski conditions – crusty off-piste, whilst the pistes are icy first thing and slushy at the end of the day. So a good tip is to look for resorts where most of the skiing is high.

No schools in Europe have half term during March this year, so there should be some good bargains for accommodation, particularly family-friendly resorts.

Some of the medium-sized resorts are perfect to visit since they have lower lift pass prices and should have the full extent of their ski area still open.

These, then, are my top tips for March skiing, all resorts with plenty of altitude:

Saas-Fee
Ski Saas-Fee

Nendaz
Ski Nendaz

Celerina (Engadine)
ski Celerina in the Engadine

Mürren
ski Murren in the Jungfrau

Flims
Ski Flims Laax Falera

St-Luc/Chandolin
Ski St-Luc and Chandolin

Crans-Montana
ski Crans and Montana

Surlej (Engadine)
ski Surlej, Silvaplana

Belalp
ski Belalp and Blatten

Lauchernalp
Ski Lauchernalp in the Lötschental

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WTF is the WEF in Davos?

Are you in Davos this week for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF)? Chances are, if you are, you are one of the thousands of extra staff brought in to look after the rich and famous. Or perhaps you are one of the rich and famous?

In what is a relatively expensive country to visit, the WEF really is about the privileged few. They are in town to put the world to rights, and most have come in on private jets.

With basic membership at a cost of 68,000 Swiss francs (£55,400), you get access to general sessions of the WEF. For just under SFr 700,000 for five people you get full access – provided your number includes a token woman.

But of course most people are not in town to hear what they could read in the papers. They are here to mingle, network or to party. Or all three.

Apparently you know you are part of the in crowd if you get invited to the party thrown by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska at his palatial chalet up the mountain from Davos. Regulars include people like Tony Blair, and you can guarantee the opportunity to hear the great and the not so good bend your ear about how issues such as inequality and the environment can get fixed. I kid you not, these are the two hottest topics at Davos.

And all this before everyone gets to go home on their private jets at nearby Dübendorf military airfield, escaping the traffic jams of chauffeur driven cars or the inconvenience of mixing with the hoi polloi on Switzerland’s immaculate railway system, burning as much fuel in one hour as a typical car does in a year.

Amongst those jetting in will be London’s mayor, a champion of public transport, who may be interested to hear that he could have got from his home in London to Davos and back entirely by train.

So what else can you do in Davos apart from put the world to rights over a glass of Dom Perignon? Well, how about ski or snowboard!
Skiers on the Parsenn above Davos
Davos is one of the very best places in the world to hit the slopes. As the Swiss Winter Sports web site puts it “Really very extensive slopes and bags of off-piste options – probably stands alongside the Engadin and the 4 Vallées as somewhere you could easily spend a whole season. Davos Dorf has access to the fabulous snow-sure Parsenn it shares with Klosters, but there is also good on and off-piste on other mountains served by the lifts from the town, for example the Jakobshorn from Davos Platz and the Rinerhorn from Glaris. In addition you can access the small areas at Pischa and Schatzalp or, from Klosters, access the Madrisa.”

After a slow start to the winter sports season, Davos has had a lot of snow in recent days, with around a metre in the town, temperatures below freezing and perfect conditions on the slopes. Expect clear, sunny skies for the forseaable future.

If you choose to visit once the problems of the world have been debated, Davos is only an hour and a quarter by train from Zurich.

Davos Parsenn - Walter Peikert 1938

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Verbier Ski Report

Nic Oatridge in VerbierWith a wealth of ski resorts to choose from, I chose to visit Verbier today. I will be checking out Zermatt next week, and had considered taking in Saas-Fee, but there are not many places that have any great extent of piste open.

Snow cannon in VerbierThere has been precious little snow since November, and with freezing levels rising above 2000m at times, resorts have struggled to keep a significant number of runs open. Snow machines have been judiciously deployed, meaning many upper runs with snow cannon are in good condition.Resort runs shielded by trees and some lower lying North-facing runs are also looking good, but even with cannon many South-facing runs are patchy, with exposed sections. Almost 50 Swiss resorts have not been able to open at all, and less than 40% of Swiss ski runs are open according to information published by the Swiss Tourist Board.

Bare patches on runs in VerbierUnprepared runs are generally closed and off-piste skiing is all but non-existent. Despite the bravado of some resorts, I doubt if there is anywhere in Europe with decent skiing outside of prepared runs with snow cannon. Annoyingly this means a lot of useful cut-throughs and alternative routes are closed, funnelling skiers and snowboarders trying to get back to resorts to a limited number of routes (or even needing to take lifts down). There is also something dispiriting about vistas customarily snow-covered being brown and bare – just see how Verbier looks now:

parascending over Verbieras opposed to normally in the season:

However, all is not despondency and gloom. The sun is shining, slopes are open and – although the short-term prospects for new snow are poor – the season is still young.

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Where was the snow?

Predictions of a good dusting of snow across the Alps last week failed to materialise. Furthermore the temperatures did not drop as much as predicted and lower slopes continue to suffer. Web cams from around the resorts are rather depressing.

As a result the resorts that are providing the best skiing are high, and my Xmas skiing is looking like it will be limited to Verbier and Zermatt.

What is the outlook like for the next few days? Not promising, but things will improve. Whether it is global warming or unconnected climatic variations, early season snow conditions have been poor for the last three years, but have improved into the New Year.
ski conditions xmas 2016

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